Kiwi ingenuity supports the development of robotics in Rotorua

Friday 23 September 2022

An Electronic Lab Technician from Massey has redesigned a robotics kits to help support young robotics enthusiasts in Rotorua.

Callum Young is one of 450 Rotorua children who have participated in the programme since it began.

Last updated: Friday 23 September 2022

The high level of robotic skills in Rotorua school children has caused an interesting and exciting dilemma for local Rotorua Library Digital Technology Educator, Jessica Cathro.

Ms Cathro established the first ever Rotorua AquaBots programme in 2019. The AquaBots programme supports Years Three – 13 students to design and build aquatic robots to undertake underwater challenges as part of a national competition, and aims to inspire students and help discover the next generation of Kiwi scientists and engineers.

More than 450 local children have been part of the programme since it began, with many of them coming back each year to make improvements to their robots and learn new skills.

As a result, a cohort of students have been building underwater robots through the programme for several years, beginning in primary school.

Ms Cathro says the students needed new challenges to keep them engaged. "I knew I needed to seek out an ‘AquaBots 2.0’ experience that was fit for purpose for these experienced students, with the appropriate equipment, at the right price."

With no suitable option in the local market, Jessica sought an alternative from company Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE). Unfortunately, the MATE kit was expensive and required soldering skills far above the capacity of the young students.

Ms Cathro began reaching out to local consultants to see what could be sourced here in New Zealand and not long after, she connected with Massey University Electronic Lab Technician Kartikay Lal.

Rather than simply offering advice on equipment, Mr Lal redesigned the entire kit. He developed the printed circuit boards himself, sourced motors and monitors, and worked out how to waterproof the camera.

The AquaBots 2.0 kit that Mr Lal developed is child-friendly, with a realistic level of soldering required. It provides a step-by-step guide with images, and detailed, accessible explanations. The kits are easy to distribute, cheaper than the imported versions, and come with more accessories.

“We could not continue running these digital programmes for Rotorua youth without the invaluable and generous support of people like Kartikay Lal, Massey University and other experts who happily share their time and expertise with the students," Ms Cathro says.

An AquaBots practice session with students from Kawaha Point School, Lynmore Primary School, and Chapman College.

Assistance from the Rotorua Trust meant the new kits were offered to local teams in 2022 for the same cost as the standard AquaBots kit. Eight teams are now using the AquaBots 2.0 kits, the youngest team made up of three Year Six boys from Te Aka Mauri afterschool programme.

A total of 45 local AquaBots teams will compete in the Rotorua Regional event on 24 September at the Rotorua Aquatic Centre. The winners will then progress to the AquaBots National Championships on 4 December, where they will compete to attend the MATE International Competition in June 2023 in the USA.

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